Ashleigh Barty's triumph at the Australian Open was many things to many people. For a nation, it was an exhilarating moment in Australian sporting history, as the World No.1 ended the country's 44-year-drought for a homegrown singles champion. it was an exuberant, unifying moment for a country that has endured a stringent lockdown during the pandemic. More than 4 million households tuned in a sporting moment that has already been compared to Cathy Freeman's incredible gold medal race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
For the sport, Barty's win solidified her spot at the top of the game. Messages poured in from her fellow competitors, who praised her graciousness as a competitor and paid respect to her dominant game. "There is just no better tennis player at the moment than Ash Barty," wrote two-time champion Victoria Azarenka on Twitter. "Most complete and focused! The way she is able to put pieces together and add a bit more to her game is absolutely admirable! What an example!"
But for Barty herself, the significance of her title run in which she did not lose a set and was broken only three times in the tournament, was just ... fun. Her third major title, which put her in an elite club with Serena Williams as the only active women to win majors on all three surfaces, was a full-circle moment. It was the payoff for the years of work and learnings she has enjoyed with her team. It was no bigger than that. But it meant the world to her.
Barty sat down with WTA Insider after her victory to reflect on her history-making win to explain what her latest title means to her, why her uncharacteristic celebration surprised her and what it means as she looks ahead to the rest of the season.
WTA Insider: You've been on the move through your media rounds since the match ended. What's it been like for you since match point?
Barty: A whirlwind, and to be honest, I wouldn't change a thing. It's been the most incredible experience of the last fortnight to probably play my best Slam. I think each Slam has been really, really different, but the way that I've been able to really enjoy it and embrace it and just be free and play like me over these last two weeks has been the most enjoyable part.
It's an absolute bonus that it's here in Australia with my friends, my family, my extended team. There are so many people that have put so much energy and love and sacrifice into my career and most of them were here this fortnight to be able to share that with me. And that's really special.
WTA Insider: For you, what is the satisfaction of winning the Australian Open?
Barty: I think it's not the satisfaction, it's just the opportunity. I've just been so grateful that I've had the opportunity to do something that not many people get to do. And I think being able to really enjoy it has been the most satisfactory thing, actually being able to enjoy the experience.
This doesn't feel like work. This is fun. This is incredibly fun to be able to share it with the crowd, to engage the crowd. It's just been the most unbelievable fortnight in a sense of enjoying every single moment, taking it for what it is, and really playing my best tennis when it mattered most.
WTA Insider: From the outside, you did seem relaxed throughout the two weeks. Was that because of experience or was it more a concerted effort to keep things that way?
Barty: We made a massive focus to keep this tournament really light, to keep this experience of playing at the Australian Open, playing at our home Grand Slam as something that is really fun.
Ultimately, I never feel like I have anything to prove to anyone. I think being able to embrace the outside noise and embrace the pressure, as they call it, for me that isn't pressure. It's just fun. I think being able to really play my own way, put my own spin on it and still be myself in what can be a really daunting environment was incredibly fun this week.
My team just does an amazing job of keeping things light. We're childlike with the games that we come up with, the warm-ups, the banter, the garbage that we talk, there's just so much fun. My days are boring when I'm not at the tennis and not enjoying that with my team. It just wouldn't be the same without them.
All in all, being able to keep it light with them, keep it fun with them, but then flip the switch, go out, compete, work your backside off and then come back the next day again and you have fun. I think just being able to find that really good balance was the recipe for us, as it has been for years and years now with the team that I've got around me. They're exceptional people. They know me like the back of their hands. They're just brilliant people.
WTA Insider: How do you contrast your title runs in Paris in 2019, Wimbledon last summer and now the Australian Open?
Barty: I think in Paris in 2019, I still felt like a little kid. I still felt like this little kid who was learning so much. Big wide eyes, deer in headlights, just not really knowing what was happening. That tournament, the back end happened really quickly. We had a lot of rain and it was quarters, semifinal, bang, bang, bang. No time to think, no time to move. I think I learned so much in the period between the French Open and Wimbledon.
Wimbledon was an experience of adversity. It was the biggest injury of my career, a 10-centimeter tear in my adductor and not being able to move the week before and being able to then find a way to navigate my way through that tournament was my biggest dream. Wimbledon, without a doubt, was the biggest dream I had as a child.
And now coming back here to the Australian Open the following year, it almost feels like a full-circle moment where, if anything, there is no pressure. It doesn't exist anymore. I just get to go out there and they may do the best that I can make my own decisions for my own reasons. I sleep well at night knowing that my team and I do all the right things for us. We have fun with it, we enjoy it, and that's all that matters.
WTA Insider: Your three match-point celebrations at the Slams have been interesting. In Paris, you seemed like you were in disbelief. At Wimbledon, it looked like a kid who had achieved her dream. Tonight your reaction almost seemed defiant.
Barty: When you put it that way, it's the perfect explanation. I think at the French I turned to my box and I said what the ... what just happened. And then at Wimbledon, it was the dream. I've maybe only cried on a tennis court a couple of other times. And that was the most joyous, happiest moment of my career because it was the dream. It was the one that I always wanted the most.
I'm just incredibly fortunate to be able to have all of these different experiences and these different opportunities. And I think after the fact, when you look back, you kind of connect the dots and you realize the defiant moments.
Certainly here tonight on Rod Laver Arena, it was just, I don't know. When I look back now, I go that's so not me. That's not how I felt. That's not what I thought would happen if it happened. But I think that the buildup of the emotions over the last two weeks just kind of all came out. I look like a goose, but it's all good.
WTA Insider: The tweets have been rolling in congratulating you on your win. Some of your fellow competitors haven't hesitated to say you're setting the standard right now, that you're the best. What is it like for you to see your name start to land on some of these lists with the game's greats and your fellow competitors are tipping their caps to you?
Barty: Some of the things that people have said to me after tonight, I don't belong in those categories. I'm not worthy of being mentioned with the champions of our sport, Roger Novak, Rafa, Serena. Like, I don't belong with them. They have created a legacy in this sport. I'm still learning.
I'm still learning my craft, I'm still refining my craft. I'm just trying to learn on the fly, week in, week out with the people that are around me. Each and every time I step out onto the court, I just want to grow. I just want to be a little bit better. Whether it's my forehand, my serve, my backhand slice, one shot that I try, tactically something I do, I just want that to be a little bit better than the last time I tried it.
Continually trying to grow has held us in really good stead the last few years. That product is because of the people that are around me. The team that I started this second phase of my career with essentially hasn't changed. That's what excites me the most.
They've been with me when I played my first 50K in Eastbourne with no ranking. I had nothing. I had absolutely no starting point. They were with me then and they're still with me now. All of the time in between the memories and the experiences and the opportunities that we've had have been second to none. It's been incredible.
WTA Insider: You've started the year undefeated and you've won your home Slam. There's a long season still ahead. How do you go about redefining or resetting your goals for the year? Are there still bucket list items out there for you to chase?
Barty: There was a massive emphasis on this January. We made the decision as a team in September last year that we wanted to stop, take a breath and really prepare ourselves for the best possible January. You can always look back in hindsight and go that was a good decision. That's what we wanted to do. But I think all in all, it's just been an incredible month of enjoyment and of tennis.
To be able to take myself to new levels on the court and enjoy everything that comes with it was really cool. I think it's going to be really important now for us to take stock and genuinely draw a line in the sand and go, 'OK, we get to celebrate a really, really incredible achievement, celebrate the people that were there with us and then refocus for what's next.'
I'm so excited for my next chapter and for what comes next. But it's important now to take stock, chill out a little bit, have a sneaky beer and be able to cheers to what we've done as a team because it's been really special.